Puna flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi)

Also known as: James’s flamingo, lesser Andean flamingo, parina, parinagua
Spanish: Flamenco Andino Chico, Flamenco de James, Parina Chica
GenusPhoenicoparrus (1)
SizeLength: 90 – 92 cm (2)
Weight2 kg (2)

The puna flamingo is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (3).

The puna flamingo has the unmistakeable long neck and legs, and a distinctive down-curved bill characteristic of all flamingo species. With an oval body covered in pinkish-white feathers, the puna flamingo has black flight feathers and bright red, elongated shoulder feathers. In the breeding season, adults develop a band of pinkish-red streaks across the breast. The reddish colouration of flamingos comes from the pigments found in the diet of these birds. The bill of the puna flamingo is shorter than in most flamingo species, but still appears massive in comparison to the small head. It is full of fine hairs that are used to filter the lake water. The flamingo holds its long neck straight in flight and calls with a nasal honking sound. This species is unique among flamingos as it lacks the hind toe (2).

The puna flamingo occupies a small range in the Andes, from the southern tip of Peru through western Bolivia and northwestern Argentina to northern Chile (2).

This highly specialised bird inhabits the salt lakes of the high Andean planes, choosing only those with a soft substrate. It breeds on islands or islets of soft clay or sand, as well as along the shorelines of salt lakes (2).

The puna flamingo is adapted to feed on minute plankton using its odd-shaped bill to filter through the alkaline lake water. It walks gracefully and aimlessly, pausing from feeding regularly (2).

Until 1957, the breeding grounds of the puna flamingo had not been located. It is now known that puna flamingos gather at nest sites in colonies of thousands of pairs, sometimes mixing with the Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) and the Andean flamingo (Phoenicopterus andinus). These large gatherings of birds display collectively for a long time surrounding the breeding period, although pair bonds appear to form during these displays. Pairs build a truncated cone of mud topped with a shallow bowl in which the female lays a single egg. Breeding will only take place if the water level of the lake is neither too high nor too low. Incubation of the egg is shared between the male and female. Once the chick begins to hatch, the adults may help it to escape from its shell. The bill of the chick is straight at first, but soon gains its characteristic down-curve. The chick spends up to 12 days in the nest after hatching. It becomes darker grey in colour after leaving the nest but will not achieve full adult plumage until three to four years of age (2).

Puna flamingo migration is poorly understood, but flocks are known to leave higher altitude breeding grounds at the end of summer, possibly to move to lower altitudes. However, some birds remain at the breeding site as the hot springs in the area prevent the lakes from freezing in the cold weather (2).

Up until 1986, egg collection and hunting were intensive. Loss and degradation of the habitat of the puna flamingo have also contributed to its decline, including the pollution and diversion of streams feeding the salt lakes (2).

Following the massive declines of the 20th century due to collection and hunting, two guards on motorcycles were employed in 1987 to protect the puna flamingos at the Laguna Colorada colony in Bolivia. Additionally, in 1984 a programme began to protect the birds of northern Chile from mining activities. Now, young are ringed in their first year, and breeding colonies are monitored and guarded (2).

For further information on this species see Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume I. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2014)